Talent development in insurance sector

SkillingIndia on October 8, 2012 Comments
Rajendra Ghag, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resource Officer, HDFC Life


“Businesses could fill the leadership vacuum from their internal ranks if they know how to spot and develop their real potential leaders. But, they don’t, despite the enormous resources and thought they pour into the task.”
- Ram Charan

Talent development is one of the most massive yet undervalued challenges an organization faces at all times. It becomes even more colossal for an industry as complex as insurance. Despite of being amongst the oldest financial institutions in the world and catering to a very basic human need of hedging against contingent and uncertain losses, it still remains to be a push product, requiring a large army of trained frontline sales personnel.

In our country’s context, the insurance sector has faced the dual challenge of evolution as well as stabilization in a span of 10-15 years, something the other sectors have had an opportunity to do over multiple decades. The major people related concerns in the HR function are the talent pool availability for external hiring and extremely high attrition rates. Further, it becomes complicated as the financial markets remain unstable and the regulator remains active.

The candidates with desired competencies for an insurance company are fit for absorption in banking sector and many B2C organizations making recruitment a perennial challenge and poaching a hard hitting reality. Also, owing to the demanding work schedules and target achievements required in an insurance setup, along with the general social stigma attached with the industry, attracting good quality talent becomes furthermore difficult.

All insurance companies usually have a large in-house learning and development team to better induct and orient its’ workforce on the products, values and working of the company. At HDFC Life, a large learning and development team of over 350 members is constantly working towards orienting and training its’ whole employee base and not just the sales force towards its insurance products and concepts. While a core talent management team is dedicated towards promoting and developing the internal talent pool.

A brief overview of the workforce composition would help us clearly define the major developmental efforts involved in management of the human capital in the insurance sector. The top line of an insurance company is thrived on by its sales arm besides the investments team. Sales channel is further divided broadly into agency, bank-led, broker-led and direct sales distribution channels. The other non-sales functions include marketing, operations, finance, investments, IT, human resources, product development, actuary etc. Each of the roles, both generalists and specialists require certain behavioural and work-related competencies. Once they are identified, development processes for them are designed and process flows are established.

The positions in both sales and non-sales functions can be broadly classified as individual contributors, managers of Individual contributors (ICs), managers of managers and top leadership.

Individual contributors

ICs are the major population in any large organization (around 50-80%). These comprise of mainly the frontline sales force, data operators, trainers, etc. The major challenges faced by the sales population, which makes the largest chunk of the entire workforce, are usually business related revolving around – consumer appetite for insurance, long gestation period before conversion of policies, performance and target pressures, etc. Owing to the limited scope of the organizations spends on handholding new recruits, the on-boarding is quite bumpy and a lot of people dropout in the initial three months.

The major competencies required in ICs are accountability, adaptability, customer orientation, product and organizational knowledge, communication skills, networking etc. The development plan for the frontline sales usually includes a structured induction and on-boarding, sales effectiveness trainings, product and financial tool knowledge, interpersonal skills workshops etc., while for the non-sales workforce, function specific trainings are organized and a heavy emphasis is given to on-the-job learning and cross-functional projects.

The initial developmental aids are usually administered online, followed by week long classroom training sessions about company products, industry overview, interpersonal skills, etc. After three months, another classroom programme that involves building business partnerships and distribution network is conducted for the sales people who clear their threshold survival targets.

At HDFC Life, besides a pre-joining online orientation on GOAL (go-online and learn), an online platform for learning about insurance concepts, AML (anti money laundering) guidelines, the organization, its values, products etc. for all new employees. Further, seven days classroom training and evaluation is organized for the sales personnel to revise the online course as well as train on interpersonal skills and sales pitching. They are also informed about the objective measures of their performance evaluation and promotion through FLAG (Front Line Advancement & Growth), Stage Gate and PIP (Performance Improvement Plan).

Furthermore, various training programs are organized specific to distribution channels at periodic intervals like Career FLS (Front Line Sales People) for Agency, Vintage FLS for Bancassurance and Direct etc.

Managers of ICs

Managers of ICs are the first level managers who lead teams or supervise individual contributors and are usually fresh management graduates or ICs promoted to a managerial role forming another large portion of the headcount (20-40%). They are usually in the roles of sales managers with 5-10 direct reports, project leads etc. The major challenges faced by this group include understanding team dynamics, handling conflicts, managing performance of direct reports, data analytics, etc.

The major competencies required for them are effective team management, data analysis, accountability and ownership, result orientation, client focus, troubleshooting less tactical issues, interpersonal skills, creativity etc. The developmental interventions comprise managerial and behavioural inputs delivered through various skill based modules in workshops, lecture series, online assessments and feedbacks etc.

At HDFCSL, LEAD, a competency based leadership development programme has been developed for the middle managers, which has various skill based modules delivered through workshops by certified trainers aimed at developing specific performance behaviours.

The career advancement policies promote vertical as well as lateral and cross functional movements through assessment centres and the organization is committed to the growth and development of internal talent pool through its robust internal job posting policy.

Managers of managers and leadership roles

They comprise of the middle and top- level managers who are usually process owners and manage various teams under them. They are quite experienced and form around 5-15% of the workforce. These are usually in diverse roles from regional and zonal managers to vertical heads and head of departments etc. The major challenges faced by them include high level strategic management, ensuring collaboration across various verticals and functions, visionary decision making, etc.

The major competencies that are needed in them are strategic direction and problem solving, team leadership and collaboration, result orientation and execution, decision making, client centricity etc. The development plan for them may include a personalized performance and potential review and feedback from supervisors and top leadership, along with behavioral development aids delivered through development centers, competency labs, workshops, assigning behavior specific stretch projects, conclaves with industry experts etc. The focus remains majorly on on-the-job learning alongside these developmental interventions.

HDFC Life has specially designed evaluation and development initiatives, potential review process (PRP), Zenith and APEX for its top leadership based on high performance behaviours. The specific profiles of each individual are built through PRP and various developmental interventions are provided under Zenith and APEX in form of workshops, competency labs, psychometric tests, personalized feedback, action learning projects etc.

Skilling is the bloodline for organizations. It’s a must have for the industry in the current scenario.

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